Friday, 31 August 2012

Re-review: Hamlet (Shakespeare's Globe & tour)

I enjoyed, but wasn't blown away by, last year's small-scale touring productions from Shakespeare's Globe. Normally that wouldn't be enough to make me revisit them, but with new casts and a relatively quiet theatrical summer, I figured they'd be worth another look. With Hamlet in particular, productions tend to be heavily built around the lead actor, so I'm interested to see how recasting him affects the experience. Last year, Joshua McGuire played Hamlet in Dominic Dromgoole's production; Bill Buckhurst now restages it with Michael Benz taking over the title role. A troupe of eight actors tells the story of the Prince of Denmark, whose father's ghost informs him he was murdered and demands revenge; but Hamlet's racked by doubts that keep him from taking action against his villainous uncle.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Theatre review: Carousel

I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and say Rodgers & Hammerstein weren't feminists. After a rather unfortunate experience with South Pacific I'm not sure what took me back to the Barbican a year later for more of their back catalogue, this time Carousel in a production by Opera North. This is one of Rodgers & Hammerstein's more regularly revived musicals, and the production has had some glowing reviews, but it won't be getting one from me. Julie Jordan (Gillene Herbert or Katherine Manley - multiple performers are listed on the website and the Barbican had no notice board up to say who was performing tonight) is a female lead (I'd tell you more about her character if she had one) who falls for Billy Bigelow (Eric Greene or Michael Todd Simpson.) He's just been fired from his job at a carnival carousel but they get married regardless, and within weeks he's smacking her about - in what I'm sure is meant as some kind of running joke, Billy keeps complaining that people have got him wrong: "I didn't beat her, I hit her."

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Theatre review: The Illusion

Pierre Corneille's 1636 play The Illusion, presented at Southwark Playhouse in an adaptation by Tony Kushner, is certainly unusual. A lawyer, Pridamant (James Clyde,) who long ago drove his son away and lost touch, is keen to find out what happened to him. He visits the magician Alcandre (Melanie Jessop) who promises to show him a series of illusions that'll replay various important scenes from the son's life: Penniless, Calisto (Charlie Archer) will fall for an upper-class heiress (Daisy Hughes) whose father disapproves, fight off a couple of rivals for her hand (Daniel Easton, Adam Jackson-Smith,) be caught up in the machinations of a lady's maid (Shanaya Rafaat) and have numerous affairs, leading him into dangerous adventures. But how reliable are the illusions? The characters' names have a tendency to change from one scene to the next, and if Pridamant doesn't like what he sees, the magician can make the story change direction. Is she just showing him what he wants to see?

Monday, 27 August 2012

Theatre review: Barrow Hill

After a couple of fairly intense plays in July, the Finborough Theatre has gone for a more low-key August, pairing Cornelius with a first play by Jane Wainwright in the Sunday-Tuesday slot. Barrow Hill is set in the titular Derbyshire village, outside a 19th-century Methodist chapel that's about to be converted into flats. Kath (Janet Henfrey) is 84 and, with her husband and most of her friends dead, the chapel is now the one place that holds her happiest memories. She decides to camp outside it and protest the conversion, but this conflict has a personal edge to it: The building company that's got the contract is owned by her son Graham (Charlie Roe.) Wainwright's short play keeps coming back to the idea of a legacy being left behind, and it not necessarily being the thing the parent wants to leave their child: Graham himself is having problems with daughter Alison, who doesn't seem as thrilled as he hoped at the prospect of inheriting the building firm.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Re-review: London Road

London Road topped my list of favourite theatre of 2011, and I was far from a lone voice: So popular was Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork's verbatim musical that the National Theatre has brought it back, moving it from the smallest auditorium to the largest as one of this year's Travelex £12 shows. Despite seeing it twice in the Cottesloe I couldn't resist one more visit in its new home, and this time brought my mum along for the ride. In 2006, in the run-up to Christmas, five prostitutes were murdered in Ipswich. Alecky Blythe, who creates her plays by editing together real-life audio interviews, went to Ipswich to speak to the residents as the events were unfolding, and then again in the subsequent couple of years to find out how they were coping with the fallout both from the killings themselves, and the media circus that came to town.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Theatre review: Henry V (Old Red Lion)

My third Henry V of the year is at the Old Red Lion, where the same company of six actors from The Revenger's Tragedy are playing it in repertory. With the other two productions I've seen this year going by and large for the sympathetic portrayal of the king, Henry Filloux-Bennett's goes the other way, turning the play into an allegory for the second Iraq war - a leader who believes he's doing god's work, going into war on dubious evidence. This is far from a new approach - Adrian Lester was a Blairite Henry back in 2003. The explanation given for revisiting the conceit is that we now have a better knowledge of what went on behind the scenes. Still, a Labour-bashing production in 2012 does feel a bit like flogging a dead horse; at least Cameron and Clegg get a last-minute dig as the Epilogue's men who "made his England bleed."

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Re-review: Jumpy

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The second press night for Jumpy is next week.

Almost all of the original Royal Court cast of Jumpy from last year have returned for this, the second transfer to take up residence at the Duke of York's Theatre. Still, Nina Raine's production may take a couple of days to settle into its new home, and seemed to me to be starting a bit sluggishly tonight. I'm sure it'll have found its feet again by the end of the week and in any case once it hit its stride April De Angelis' occasionally dark comedy of a mother and daughter sparks into the entertaining show I remembered enjoying so much the first time. Hilary (Tamsin Greig) is 50 and feeling as if she's about to lose everything. Her job's in danger, her marriage to Mark (Ewan Stewart) is stagnant and, in the play's central relationship, her teenage daughter Tilly (Bel Powley) seems to hate her guts.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Theatre review: Cornelius

Whenever the Finborough Theatre digs up a play that's languished in obscurity for decades and turns out to be surprisingly good, the natural reaction is to wonder how the work could have remained "lost" for so long. And perhaps the secret of their success is timing: Maybe if this play had been unearthed and staged a few years ago it would have failed to capture anyone's interest. But as with The American Clock, which came to the same theatre earlier this year, J.B. Priestley's Cornelius deals with an earlier economic crisis, and so has unfortunately taken on a relevance to the current one. Written in 1935, it follows the last few weeks in business of a small London company that's dealt in aluminium imports with some success for many decades, but now has the creditors knocking at the door.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Theatre Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream (Open Air Theatre)

Alternating with Ragtime at Regent's Park is a play that's almost synonymous with the open air venue, although this take on A Midsummer Night's Dream is far from a frothy, family picnic affair. Taking his cue from the memoirs of Mikey Walsh, who provides the programme notes, Matthew Dunster's production is a Big Fat Gypsy Dream, relocating the action to a caravan site that looks set to be flattened to make way for a Westfield-style shopping centre. In a subculture where arranged marriages still exist, Hermia (Hayley Gallivan) loves Lysander (Tom Padley) but her father wants her to marry Demetrius (Kingsley Ben Adir.) If she doesn't comply, her father has asked the gypsy king Theseus, himself about to get married, to exact a harsh punishment. Hermia flees with Lysander, but her friend Helena (Rebecca Oldfield) is in unrequited love with Demetrius, and they follow the pair into the woods - where they get caught up in the magical games of the fairies who live there.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Theatre review: Much Ado About Nothing (RSC / Courtyard & Noël Coward Theatre)

An Indian regiment returns home after a successful UN peacekeeping mission, in Iqbal Khan's present-day Delhi-set take on Much Ado About Nothing, which takes up home at the RSC's temporary Courtyard Theatre prior to its conversion back to The Other Place. The regiment rests at the wealthy Leonato's (Madhav Sharma) villa. When soldier Claudio (Sagar Arya) falls for Leonato's daughter Hero (Amara Karan,) his Raja Don Pedro (Shiv Grewal) decides to play matchmaker. But Don Pedro's villainous half-brother Don John (Gary Pillai) has plans to break up the young couple for his own amusement. Meanwhile Hero's cousin Beatrice is less than thrilled to see her ex, Benedick, among the party. Despite their protestations that they hate each other, Don Pedro is determined to trick them into falling back in love.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Theatre review: Troilus and Cressida (RSC & Wooster Group / Swan & Riverside Studios)

Troilus and Cressida has always been listed among Shakespeare's Problem Plays, although I doubt it's ever been quite as problematic as this. In a programme note, co-director Mark Ravenhill (a late replacement when Rupert Goold had a scheduling conflict) discusses the messy jumps in tone that saw the play labelled as such, and explains the reasoning behind this production: Instead of trying to tame the chaos, let's embrace the inconsistencies and randomness of life that the play throws at us. In the 7th year of the Trojan War, the Greek army is attempting to get its most celebrated warrior, Achilles, out of the tent he shares with friend/lover Patroclus, and back into battle. Meanwhile in besieged Troy, Prince Troilus is wooing Cressida with the help of her uncle Pandarus, not knowing that she will soon be traded to the Greeks in a hostage negotiation.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Theatre review: Ragtime

This year the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park have opted to run just two shows in repertory over the summer, rather than their usual season of four. Ragtime, the 1996 musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel with book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, is a story of formative years in modern American culture, following three families from different backgrounds, whose stories will intertwine over the early years of the 20th Century: A well-off white family whose Father (David Birrell) goes off on a Polar expedition only to find some surprising changes at home when he returns; an unmarried black couple with a newborn baby; and a widowed Jewish immigrant (John Marquez) and his daughter. Through them we see an America that's still in the grip of institutional prejudice, but in which the voices calling for civil rights are getting louder.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Theatre review: The Rover, or, The Banish'd Cavaliers

Helping to fill a relatively quiet August is a list of firsts: My first trip to the New Diorama, and my first time seeing a play by Aphra Behn - herself England's first-ever professional female playwright. Sadly although there's unmistakable signs that the play itself is an interesting example of a rather dark Restoration comedy, Pell Mell theatre company didn't make anywhere near as good a first impression. In The Rover three (or possibly four - the identity of some of the supporting characters are among the many things that are a bit vague here) English cavaliers arrive in Naples during a carnival and proceed to pursue the local women: Whether, like Belville (Leo Marcus Wan) this means trying to secure the hand in marriage of his true love or, like Willmore (Felix Trench) it means trying to get into the pants of the city's many prostitutes, preferably for free.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Stage-to-screen review: Henry IV Part 2 (BBC Hollow Crown)

"Previously on Henry IV" - heh, I did quite enjoy the fact that Richard Eyre took the opportunity to do a classic TV recap at the top of his Hollow Crown film of Henry IV Part 2. Handy way to get the credits out of the way without putting them over the action, too. Although both are highly regarded, the second of Shakespeare's Henry IV plays seems to be considered marginally the lesser of the two, and if the production's not good enough it can sometimes come across as a poor retread of Part 1. Done well though it can shine in its own right (it does contain a lot of the sequence's iconic scenes and lines) and in my opinion this is the better of the two BBC adaptations. With Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) ailing, a second rebellion threatens to rise up out of Hotspur's failed attempt - but this one will be dealt with a lot more strategically and with less bloodshed. Hal (Tom Hiddleston) knows the time is approaching for him to take over as king, and starts to plan how he'll get rid of his group of hangers-on, led by Falstaff.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Stage-to-screen review: Henry IV Part 1 (BBC Hollow Crown)

Turns out becoming King of England will really age you, but on the plus side it'll restore your hairline: Henry IV regenerates from Rory Kinnear in the first part of the BBC's Hollow Crown quartet of Shakespeare Histories, to Jeremy Irons in Henry IV Part 1. Richard Eyre takes over directing duties for the middle two plays, and brings much more washed-out colours to reflect a more sombre reign than Richard II's. Haunted by the fact that he deposed a king and could face the same fate, Henry faces rebellion from Harry Percy (known as Hotspur) egged on by his uncle Worcester. Meanwhile Henry's son Hal (Tom Hiddleston) appears to be a very unworthy heir to the throne, spending all his time with the drunken old knight Falstaff and an assortment of misfits in an Eastcheap tavern.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Theatre review: Curtains

Kander and Ebb's Curtains is a fairly obscure musical by the standards of the songwriters of Cabaret and Chicago (they obviously liked one-word titles that start with "C.") It got a Broadway run in 2007 but no West End transfer, so Robert McWhir's production at the Landor, the pub theatre with a particular focus on musicals, is its UK professional premiere. A play-within-a-play, it follows the Boston run of "Robbin' Hood," a musical with hopes of making it to Broadway, but troubled not only by the unfinished songs but also by the terrible performance of the lead actress, a Hollywood starlet unable to hit her notes or remember her lines. When she suddenly drops dead at the curtain call, one problem at least is solved; but the policeman investigating insists on keeping the cast locked in the theatre until the murder is solved - and until the troublesome big number can be rewritten.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Theatre review: The Revenger's Tragedy

It's a mini-revival for Thomas Middleton in London at the moment (even if the National have erased his name from the Timon publicity.) The Old Red Lion, a fairly under-the-radar pub theatre that's been raising its game recently, now attempts an ambitious rep season, doubling up a tiny cast across two Jacobethan classics - Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy makes up half of the programme (paired with the ubiquitous Henry V.) Vindice's wife and father are dead, and he blames the corrupt Duke and his family. Together with his brother Hippolito, he plots an elaborate revenge that sees him disguise himself as a henchman to the Duke's son Lussurioso. Meanwhile the royal family's own deadly machinations against each other mean they're doing much of the revenger's job for him.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Theatre review: Soho Cinders

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: This review is of the penultimate preview performance.

Soho Cinders is a long-gestating project from Stiles and Drewe, the songwriters behind last year's Betty Blue Eyes and the new songs in Mary Poppins. And though musical theatre is famed for being popular with a gay audience, you can see why a show as overtly gay as this one wouldn't quite be looking at a big West End run. Instead it gets an appropriate berth as Soho Theatre, just up the road from its Old Compton Street setting. Robbie (Tom Milner) is a student whose mother died without leaving a will, leaving him at the mercy of the two stepsisters who want to get hold of the launderette that should rightfully be his to inherit. Instead Robbie has to support himself by becoming a rent boy, but he's also having a secret relationship with James Prince, a popular, engaged candidate for London mayor. (Although, how exactly it's a secret is anyone's guess; I'm sure there's less public meeting places than at the foot of the Trafalgar Square lions.)

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Theatre review: Timon of Athens (National Theatre)

Simon Russell Beale appears to be warming up for his upcoming turn as Lear (whenever that eventually materialises) with another powerful man cast out into the wilderness after his illusions are shattered, Shakespeare and Middleton's Timon of Athens. Timon is the best-loved man in Athens, thanks to his limitless generosity which is easily taken advantage of - he may as well be a lottery with a guaranteed win, as everyone knows that giving him a small gift will see him repay it with something seven times the value, so his unscrupulous friends do this often. When it turns out Timon's apparent wealth is actually mortgaged to the hilt and the debt collectors arrive, he assumes his friends will return his generosity but is wide of the mark. He goes from the man who loves everyone to the greatest misanthrope alive, living in the woods (the docks, in this modern-dress production) and avoiding human company, but even there he can't escape gold and the power it has over people.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Theatre review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a huge hit a few years back and clearly remains beloved: Simon Stephens' stage adaptation for the National Theatre sold out its entire run long before it even started previewing. 15-year-old Christopher Boone has behavioural problems on the autistic spectrum (contrary to what the book's original blurb stated, Haddon doesn't like his character's condition labelled as Asperger Syndrome.) He dislikes strangers and human contact in general, screaming in panic if even one of his parents touches him. He does like animals though, as well as maths and the colour red (but definitely not yellow or brown.) At the start of the play Christopher lives alone with his father in Swindon, his mother, as far as he knows, having died two years earlier. When he finds his neighbour's dog violently killed and is falsely accused of the crime, he sets out to discover who really did it - only to find a lot more secrets than he was expecting.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Theatre review: Philadelphia, Here I Come!

It's the 1950s and Gar (Paul Reid) is about to leave the little Irish town where he's lived all his life, and where he works in his widowed father's general store. An aunt who lives in Philadelphia born and raised, on the playground was where she spent most of her days has found him a job there and we meet him the night before he flies out, probably leaving home and family behind forever. He looks back over his life in Ballybeg, in particular hoping he can find the courage to try and finally connect with his emotionally distant father. In Brian Friel's Philadelphia Here I Come! which Lyndsey Turner revives at the Donmar Warehouse, we see the contrast between the public face the young man puts on and how he really feels, as he interacts with "Gar in Private" (Rory Keenan,) a personification of his inner monologue who reminisces, frets and tries to build up his confidence to confront his demons while he still can.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Stage-to-screen review: Richard II (BBC Hollow Crown)

Although the BBC's Hollow Crown series was an original commission rather than adaptations of previous stage productions, I'm going to count it as "stage-to-screen" and review it here as the directors and many of the actors are best known for their stage work, and the intention seems to have been to bring theatrical experience to bear on putting Shakespeare on TV.

The Hollow Crown, the BBC's adaptation of Shakespeare's second (in order of writing) history cycle was broadcast in June and July, but I've held off on watching them as there's a comparatively theatre-light month ahead. So I'm going to spread them out across August (actually Henry V might wait a bit longer, since it's not like there's any shortage of that play at the moment.) But first up Rupert Goold directs Richard II, and brings the title character's most famous speech ("For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground" etc) right to the start as a voiceover which makes for a nice opening not just to this play, but to the quartet of plays as a whole: The line about kings "haunted by the ghosts they have deposed" will prove particularly pertinent to his successor. Utterly convinced of his divine right to rule England, Richard II deals capriciously with the lives of his subjects, but one abuse of power too many leads to a coup that his circle of flatterers is powerless to stop. But a deposed king can still be a figurehead to rebels, and the new king Henry IV won't rest easy as long as Richard's alive.